by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala
Pekin Street, in Chinatown, is a thoroughfare that connects China Street and Telok Ayer Street. A common misspelling of Peking (now Beijing), the capital city of China, the street was well known for the furniture makers who lived and worked there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is no longer open to vehicular traffic and has been converted into a pedestrian mall with shops, eateries and heritage sites.
Pekin Street, one of Chinatown's older streets, first appeared in the 1836 Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore by George D. Coleman.1 It is not known why this street was named after the capital city of China although a large number of Chinese residing there, particularly the Kheks or Hakkas, may account for its name. The street was known for its furniture makers, more specifically cabinet makers, who lived along the street in the 19th and early 20th centuries.2 It was a relatively safe street with a better reputation compared with the other streets of Chinatown, which were lined with opium shops, gambling dens and brothels.3 Since the late 1990s, Pekin Street has been converted into a pedestrian mall with a glass-covered walkway.4
Pekin Street is part of the Chinatown conservation area and has been incorporated into an extensive pedestrian mall. In the mid-1990s, it was one of four streets – along with Nankin Street, Pagoda Street and Trengganu Street – identified to become pedestrian malls to revitalise the area.5 As part of efforts to preserve the rich cultural heritage of this historic area, shophouses along the street were conserved. The louvred windows, air wells, floors and party walls of the shophouses were retained, the facades were restored, and the interiors modified to suit the different businesses housed within.6 Today, two commercial developments are located on either side of the street: Capital Square and Far East Square, both completed in 1998.
The Capital Square project comprises two blocks of conservation shophouses as well as a 16-storey office block. Far East Square is a conservation development made up of 61 old shophouses, a seven-storey carpark and a pavilion for performances.7 Housed within the latter is an eclectic mix of office spaces, entertainment outlets, retail outlets, restaurants, cafes and pubs.8 To inject more vibrancy into the conservation area, Fuk Tak Chi Temple – located at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Pekin Street – was restored at a cost of $200,000 and converted into Singapore's first street museum in 1998 to showcase artefacts donated by Chinatown residents.9
Chinese name: I sio koi (Hokkien) and Yi seung kai (Cantonese), which mean “clothing box street”, a reference to the box makers or cabinet makers who live and have shops along the street.10
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 293. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Coleman, G. D. (1836). Map of the town and environs of Singapore [Media image no.: 20080000020]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who's Who Publications, p. 239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
3. Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history, 1819–2002. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 89. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS]); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 87–88. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Warren, J. F. (2003). Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 44–45. (Call no.: RSING 306.74095957 WAR)
4. Chin, S. F, (1998, April 23). Eat and disco in an old school. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, D. (1996, July 26). Four Chinatown streets to become pedestrian malls. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Gwee. E. (1999, June 27). Go get connected at Far East Square. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1999, September/October). New lease of life for heritage buildings. Skyline, p. 11. Retrieved 2020, June 10 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Conservation-Portal/Resources/Articles?bldgid=JOOCH
7. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1999, September/October). New lease of life for heritage buildings. Skyline, p. 11. Retrieved 2020, June 10 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Conservation-Portal/Resources/Articles?bldgid=JOOCH; Tan, C. (1998, March 18). Tenants snap up 60% of Far East Sq. The Straits Times, p. 52; Lee, S. H. (1998, December 19). Dust cobwebs off memories. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Gwee. E. (1999, June 27). Go get connected at Far East Square. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Oon, C. (1998, November 19). No more termites, step in. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Firmstone, H. W. (1905, February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42, 120–121. (Call no.: RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
The information in this article is valid as at June 2020 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.